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The Five Heartbeats (1991)

R  |   |  Drama, Music  |  29 March 1991 (USA)
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Ratings: 7.5/10 from 2,454 users  
Reviews: 32 user | 14 critic

The story of the rise and fall of an African American vocal group.


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Cast overview, first billed only:
Eleanor Potter
Harold Nicholas ...
Duck's Baby Sister
John Canada Terrell ...
Michael 'Flash' Turner
Chuck Patterson ...
Jimmy Potter
Big Red
Baby Doll (as Troy Beyer)
Carla Brothers ...
Tanya Sawyer


In the early 1960's, a quintet of hopeful young African American men form an amateur vocal group called The Five Heartbeats. After an initially rocky start, the group improve, turn pro, and rise to become a top flight music sensation. Along the way however, the guys learn many hard lessons about the reality of the music industry with it's casual racism and greed while the personal weaknesses of the members threaten to destroy the integrity of the band. Written by Kenneth Chisholm <>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Drama | Music

Motion Picture Rating (MPAA)

Rated R for language

Parents Guide:





Release Date:

29 March 1991 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Los Heartbeats  »

Filming Locations:


Box Office


$8,750,400 (USA)

Company Credits

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:


Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


The scene where Big Red beats up and dangles a singer out of a window over royalties is alleged to have actually happened to Jackie Wilson. See more »


As the group starts singing the acapella version "A Heart is a house for love", Leon (JT) starts off snapping his fingers on the wrong beat. See more »


Sarge: Hold my cane. Step outside & I'll kick both of ya's ass like you stole something!
See more »


References New American Bandstand 1965 (1952) See more »


I Love Joey
Written by Michael Baker & Aisha Ahmad
Produced by George Duke & Steve Tyrell
Performed by Babydoll & The Crystals
Lead Vocals by 'Troy Bailey' (as Troy Beyer)
See more »

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User Reviews

"No matter how hard it gets..."
28 December 2000 | by (Arlington, VA.) – See all my reviews

By now, every film buff knows the legendary story about the plucky, tenacious indie filmmaker who maxed out all his credit cards to realize his celluloid dreams. Spike Lee was one of the directors most associated with the tale, as he completed SHE'S GOTTA HAVE IT. Another was Robert Townsend, who made the hysterically biting satire HOLLYWOOD SHUFFLE, about the African-American experience in Tinseltown.

Once that film became a surprise success, Townsend finally found himself a respected talent, and chose his next project accordingly. He decided to chronicle the long, hard road to success traveled by a black singing group, through several decades of triumph and tragedy. Using the personal experiences of the legendary R & B group The Dells as a blueprint, (they also served as technical advisers), Townsend hammered out a screenplay with friend and colleague Keenan Ivory Wayans, and THE FIVE HEARTBEATS is the result.

Though the film contains moments so overwrought with melodrama that they threaten to slip into parody, the issues of racism, class distinctions, greed, payola, and the ever-present lure of sex, drugs and excess that accompany celebrity status are never treated casually or simply glossed over.

Whatever plot points the script may sometimes seem to stumble over, the talented cast, lead with steadfast confidence by actor/writer/director Townsend, never miss a note or a beat, especially when helped along by a great soundtrack, supervised by jazz/funk/R&B great Stanley Clarke. Every performance is remarkable, with special mention going to the underrated Michael Wright as Eddie, the group's talented and troubled lead singer, to Leon as the group ladies' man, (whose good looks and talent have landed him in several other similar high-profile roles), and to the overlooked Hawthorne James as the malevolent "Big Red," the epitome of a man who has completely sold himself, body and soul, to the dark side of success.

Townsend also manages not to forget that between the dramatic moments, what makes a great musical is great MUSIC; songs that remind us why even though the concept of people suddenly bursting into fully orchestrated tunes defies logic, the pure, giddy sense of fun and enjoyment we derive from such moments are why musicals are a genre that simply refuse to die.

Nowhere in HEARTBEATS is it more apparent, than when Townsend and actress/singer Tressa Thomas team up on a show-stopping number called "We Haven't Finished Yet," as Duck, Townsend's character, struggles to write a song, getting some unexpected and able-bodied help from his baby sister, who nearly brings down the house! It's moments like this that make musicals memorable, and in a niche that can never have too many well-rendered stories about groups from "back-in-the-day," THE FIVE HEARTBEATS is a genuine classic that can be recommended not just to black audiences, but to moviegoers of any background who love good stories about music and musicians.

26 of 26 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

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